Have You Heard

Post date: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 1:53am

Have You Heard About... Bellman & Black

… the funereal emporium of Bellman and Black? Like most readers, I came to this novel because I loved Diane Setterfield’s first novel, The Thirteenth Tale. If you have not yet read this book, I’ll give you a heads up: Bellman & Black is distinctly different from The Thirteenth Tale, but if you head into it with an open mind, you’ll likely find that this book has its own unique charm.

Even though the book clocks in at just over 300 pages, it covers the span of William Bellman’s life, from age 10 until old age. At age 10, young William uses a slingshot to kill a rook sitting in a faraway tree. Although this seems at first to be a trivial incident, the consequences of his action will follow him all throughout adulthood. At first, William is a young, energetic man working and learning at a nearby textile mill. But then a raging epidemic sweeps through town, and after a series of excruciating losses, William finds himself entering into a macabre business deal with the mysterious Mr. Black. And so, Bellman & Black is born - an emporium of the finest funeral garb and supplies.

There isn’t much in the way of plot, at least not in terms of suspense or escalating action. What we have instead is a series of decisions and actions made over the course of William’s life that ultimately affect the outcome of the novel. There’s not much of a climax, not much in terms of suspense. It’s a very even and measured story. William’s character is also very structured and orderly, and these characteristics transferred well into the reading experience. The measured pace and careful precision of Setterfield’s writing made the novel feel like clockwork, which is especially fitting, since much of the novel deals with death and the passage of time.

Setterfield also includes a wealth of historic details, particularly in terms of textile production in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. (It’s not entirely clear what time period the novel is set in.) While I don’t generally choose novels with such a wealth of historical detail, the information made the story compelling and gave it a rich texture that I enjoyed.

And although this novel didn’t have the sumptuous literary tone of The Thirteenth Tale, I loved the dark, brooding Gothic overtones of Bellman and Black. Diane Setterfield seems to be carving out a special niche for herself and I only hope we won’t have to wait as long for her next novel!


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Tags: book, fiction, review
Post date: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 - 1:37am

Have You Heard About... The Blossom Sisters

… Gus Hollister, the 3 B’s and the wild – and sometimes wacky – things that can happen when you least expect them? In one of Fern Michaels’ newest books, The Blossom Sisters, Gus Hollister’s wife has just kicked him out of the house and wants a divorce. Elaine’s a gold digger with a rap sheet of prior marriages a mile long. Gus didn’t listen to the Blossom sisters, his beloved granny Rose and aunts Violet and Iris, who tried to tell him she was no good and up to something. Now Gus is estranged from the family who raised him and turns to his best friend Barney for help. The 3 B’s are up to something and want no part of Gus and his problems, but Granny Rose just has to help her grandson and so does Barney.

What happens next is a series of lots of laughter as Gus is on probation with Granny and the aunts. Barney has hired the best lawyers and PIs money can buy to help Gus get away from Elaine. In the meantime the 3 B’s relent enough to let Gus in on what is going on with them. In a very convoluted way, you’ll be drawn into the world of senior citizens and realize that it’s about belonging, being productive and staying active. You’ll also discover what they want out of life and how the 3 B’s make this happen. With the help of Gus and eventually Barney, you’ll howl with laughter at this fast-paced novel as it unfolds to a very happy, feel good ending.


Reviewed by Terry (staff)

Tags: book, fiction, review
Post date: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - 1:19am

Have You Heard About... Waiter Rant

…about the insanity that comes from working as a waiter for too long? Steve Dublanica has waited tables in New York City for years and exposes the seedy, dishonest, and sometimes disgusting side of the restaurant world in his book Waiter Rant: Thanks For the Tip – Confessions of a Cynical Waiter.

The book covers all sorts of stories, from his first time waiting tables to the time he served Russell Crowe, to the couple who threw a conniption fit because they couldn’t get a “good” table in the back during the dinner hour. Dublanica has already classified himself as a cynic, but he spends a fair amount of time in the book analyzing why these customers (and other troublesome diners) behave the way they do. His conclusions point to an excess of narcissism and the prevalence of a culture based on instant gratification - a cynical and depressing perspective of the American population to be sure, but as Dublanica reminds us, 80% of the people coming into a restaurant only want to enjoy a good meal. It’s the other 20% that are raving psychopaths incapable of functioning in the outside world.

In addition, here’s a lot of insider information about how restaurants are run, why so many restaurants collapse under subpar management, and how some corrupt owners use blackmail and general bullying to keep their pockets lined and their employees obedient. Makes me grateful that I’ve never worked in the food industry before…

For anyone who works customer service or works with the public, there is a lot of relatable material in here, regardless of your profession. And for the rest of us who want to ensure a pleasant dining experience for everyone involved, there’s a list of tips on how to make the most out of your restaurant visit and how not to drive your waiter crazy.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 - 1:25am

Have You Heard About... Will and Whit

… taking chances and facing your fears? Laura Lee Gulledge’s Will and Whit is a sweet, thoughtful look at a girl who does just that. Wilhelmina, Will for short, is 17, but she has an old-fashioned soul. Will makes lamps, partly for fun and partly to keep away the shadows that surround her since her parents died. Her two best friends are equally creative (and equally flawed), and the story follows them through the summer before their senior year of high school. They make new friends, fall into and out of love, and support one another through the opportunities of a local arts carnival and the challenges of Hurricane Whitney, which leaves their town without power for days.

Laura Lee Gulledge does a beautiful job with both the writing and the visual art of this story. The characters are wonderfully complex and detailed, a feature that is mirrored by the artwork. In particular, the shifting shadows around Will give the reader clues to her inner feelings, fears and hopes. The story flows naturally through peaceful afternoons on the river, dark nights during the blackout, and heartfelt talks in sunlight and in shadow.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - 1:30pm

Have You Heard About... Doctor Sleep

… the sequel to one of the scariest horror novels of all time? Say hello to Doctor Sleep, the newest release from Stephen King, over 40 years in the making. Obviously if there’s going to be a sequel to The Shining, there will also be high expectations. The Shining was the first Stephen King book I ever read, almost ten years ago, and it still remains one of my favorite horror novels.

Danny Torrance is now a grown man who has inherited his father’s alcoholism and who is still haunted by the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel. But now he is plagued by a new set of demons, a group of immortal beings that call themselves the True Knot and travel across the country in RV’s. The True Knot sustains themselves on the “steam” of dying children who possess the shining, and they’re going after an extremely gifted child named Abra Stone, who seems to have a mysterious connection to Danny. As the True Knot draw closer to Abra, Danny must pull himself together to save Abra, destroy the True Knot, and face his demons.

I had a hard time drawing a connection between the Danny Torrance of years past and the grown Dan Torrance of Doctor Sleep, but that’s not a flaw, just a consequence of writing a sequel 30+ years after the original story. Dan is an interesting, flawed, and ultimately likeable character who is able to confront the demons that drove his father to madness. And Abra Stone is a strong, plucky heroine with a surprising angry streak.

But the book doesn’t stray too far from the world that Stephen King created with The Shining - subtle clues and references are dropped here and there - a pleasant surprise for the diehard Shining fans, and a good way to keep Doctor Sleep anchored to its predecessor. Plus a reference to NOS4A2, the latest novel from Stephen King’s son, Joe Hill, which made me deliriously happy. Overall, this was a solid if somewhat unusual horror story from a master storyteller.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 - 1:15am

Have You Heard About... A New Chapter

… Mary’s Mystery Bookshop? A New Chapter by Kristin Eckhardt is the first book in the Secrets of Mary’s Bookshop series. Mary is about to open her dream-come-true bookshop. No matter your age, Mary will have a mystery book just for you. As Mary gets her store ready for her grand opening, someone breaks into her shop and steals an old photograph of the store that her uncle owned at one time. The photograph is from 1957. Why would someone want a dusty old picture? No books were stolen.

With Nancy Drew and Miss Marple as her inspirations, being a mystery buff, Mary is determined to find out why the photo was so important that someone had to steal it. Her handyman, the ladies of the new book club, old friends – everyone is a suspect in this wonderful whodunit (and why) large-print mystery that is sure to please.


Reviewed by Terry (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - 1:12am

Have You Heard About... The Beatles

… the myth and legend surrounding the Beatles? Of course you have. What a silly question to ask.

The real question should be – have you heard about the TRUE story of the Beatles? If not, it’s time to pick up Bob Spitz’s comprehensive book, The Beatles: The Biography. This massive book covers the band’s entire history: their childhoods, their skiffle beginnings, the insanity of Beatlemania, their angry final sessions at Abbey Road Studios, and everything in between. The problem of chronicling the history of the Beatles (or any pop culture superstar, for that matter) is that myth and reality get so wrapped with each other that it’s hard to tell which is which. And with a group as legendary, controversial, and beloved as the Beatles, it’s even harder for the author to keep subjective emotions from clouding the facts.

Now, this biography is not free from the author’s emotions, but Bob Spitz goes to great lengths to dispel the myths surrounding the Beatle’s existence and make each member of the Fab Four stand out as individuals. John Lennon is portrayed as a conflicted, frustrated, yet violent artist, Paul McCartney as a diplomatic, ingratiating, and slightly arrogant musician, George Harrison as a brooding, sarcastic, and occasionally biting guitarist who was never given much of an opportunity to grow within the band, and Ringo Starr as an easygoing band mate with tendencies towards brooding and moodiness. Are these perceptions accurate? It’s hard to say. With the Beatles, there will never be one “correct” account of their work, but it’s really something to see these larger-than-life personalities become grounded and somehow almost more human.

This book requires commitment and an open mind, but the journey it creates for the reader is exhilarating, shocking, heartbreaking, infuriating, and awe-inspiring - just like the Beatles themselves.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 - 1:42am

Have You Heard About... Frog Trouble

… the dangers of amphibians? Sandra Boynton adds to her collection of silly CDs with Frog Trouble. The back of the case says, “Boynton Country Music,” and you know you’re off to a good start when the first two songs are about dogs and trucks. However, in addition to both country and western tunes, this album has folk, rock, honky-tonk, and more.

Sandra Boynton has a knack for writing both books and songs that are great for kids while still appealing to adults. I checked out this CD to decide whether to get it for my oldest niece, but I listened to it several times on my own. Many of the songs are energetic and silly, but several are slow and sweet. It’s a great album for singing along in the car, whether you prefer flying pigs, strolling alligators, or just … Frog Trouble.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, January 1, 2014 - 1:32am

Have You Heard About... Before I Go to Sleep

… the woman who forgets who she is every time she falls asleep? The debut psychological suspense novel from S.J. Watson, Before I Go to Sleep, follows the story of Christine, who wakes up in the morning to discover that she has no idea who or where she is. She does not recognize the man who is apparently her husband. She does not know how old she is. She has no memory of her past. But then she learns that this is a typical occurrence – she forgets her identity every morning when she wakes up, only to remember bits and pieces throughout the day and then forget everything as soon as she falls asleep. But despite her crippling amnesia, Christine has the feeling that her husband, Ben, may only be telling her part of the truth.

This book was one that I had been meaning to read for ages, ever since I discovered the magic that is psychological suspense, and thankfully it delivered exactly what I expected: a psychological condition mixed with varying degrees of paranoia, confusion, unease, and suspicion.

The story has a more measured pace than some of the other novels I’ve read recently, but fear not: everything comes together with tremendous force and a huge plot twist towards the end. I won’t give away any spoilers, but once that twist happened, I felt like the story transformed into an 80 mph roller coaster with me hanging on for dear life.

My reviews and reading preferences are often too dark and macabre for the average reader, but if you enjoy suspenseful, well-crafted mysteries without grittiness or violence, you can’t go wrong with this title. My only regret was that I waited this long to read it!


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, December 25, 2013 - 1:34am

Have You Heard About... Everything Guide to Preventing Heart Disease

… being pro-active in trying to save your life? Eating healthy, exercise, and lifestyle choices are all a part of the Everything Guide to Preventing Heart Disease by Murdoc Khaleghi, MD. You don’t have to have high cholesterol or high blood pressure to understand what this book is all about. This book is about you and how you manage your overall health and the hazards of modern living.

There are parts of this book on heart healthy eating and why dieting doesn’t work, if you aren’t as active as you should be and the minimum amount of activity you need to stay healthy, and how to manage stress or reduce your stress levels. There are a lot recipes in this book that are worth trying, even though I didn’t go along with some of the high sodium levels. However, with a few different spices and tweaking of some of the ingredients, I managed to lower the sodium and create a few different recipes that I was pleased with. I changed the Blueberry Cloud dessert using black raspberries, and it was delicious. I learned to make a low-sodium chicken broth that I can live with. I tried the Chicken Curry Apple Soup and thought it turned out very good.

This is a very easy book to understand, and it’s easy to make a few changes in your lifestyle.


Reviewed by Terry (staff)